Calloused Hearts- Personal Example

I once went to a spiritual retreat in the mountains. There were sermons shared, a great deal of prayer, and time alone to walk in nature. It was a wonderful, spiritual experience. Throughout all the first day I felt my heart opening up and connecting to God. Away from the distractions of the world I could really hear God clearly. We had a more direct communication than I was used to, and I properly understood where I was in life, what was holding me back, and what God would like me to do to advance further.

But when I woke up on the second day of the retreat I found a strange numbness had come over me. I attended the first sermons of the day and struggled to be fully present with them. By the time I hit the second or third lecture the messages had rubbed away my emotional walls and I started to feel spiritually awake again. I had another positive experience throughout the rest of the day.

The third morning the coating of numbness was even thicker. I really wanted to engage with the spirit but it felt like many layers had grown on my heart overnight. The exposure to God, while wonderful, had been tenderizing. There had been a great deal of emotion and my heart had felt more raw and exposed than it was accustomed to. Just like how skin rubbed raw will begin to blister and callous to protect the tender flesh, my heart was toughening itself against further feeling.

This time I only half coaxed my heart back out of its shell. It had reached its saturation point and needed to rest.

Overall the retreat was still a very positive experience. I felt inspired to make some long-term changes to my life and I continue to carry the benefits of that to this day, three years later. I also left with an important lesson about my heart, though. It had an emotional capacity, a threshold for what it was willing to feel. And just like any other muscle, the heart has to be exercised to increase that capacity. I needed more experiences like this retreat to acclimate it to prolonged deep feelings.

Calloused Hearts- Question

Sometimes we feel perfectly genuine and authentic. We are spiritually awake and directly connected to God. We feel committed to everything that is good and ready to make every needed change in our lives. We are vulnerable and open to receiving the love of God and others.

And then we wake up the next day and feel nothing. It is as if our soul felt too exposed and grew several layers overnight to shield it. And even if we know that the previous state was better we can’t just flip a switch to return to get back there.

With this study I want to consider how we return to a genuine and open-hearted place when we’re stuck in the doldrums. I want to consider the practices of prophets and saints in the scriptures, and what ways they found to keep their connection to God fresh.

In the meantime I would love to hear about your own experiences on the matter. Can you recall a moment of spiritual fervor followed by apathy? Were you able to break through to deeper feelings again? What methods did you employ, and how did you know to use them?

Leading to Water- Summary

This study reminded me of my desire to raise children who reach their full potential. Like many parents, I feel the strong inclination to solve all of my children’s problems and answer their every question. Of course, in infancy and early childhood this is essential, they cannot survive without such complete care. But one of my children is now at an age where he is able to assume responsibility and resolve some issues on his own. I find myself wondering what the right balance is of giving him answers versus staying quiet so he can find them on his own.
But this study isn’t only for those in a mentoring position. It is also ideal for those of us who are still coming into our own. Through this study I have also become more aware of crutches I am leaning on, ones that I should have let go of long ago so that I could walk more confidently.
This study was helpful to me from both the perspective of a guide and a pupil. And I imagine that I am not the only one who falls firmly under both categories. There are important lessons in this study for all the different hats we wear. Here are the main principles that came up while I was reviewing the subject.

The Purpose of Mentors

Mentors are a good thing. God made us to be social beings and also imitative beings. Our desire is to be part of a community and to model ourselves after others, and this is by divine design. We therefore ought to seek out the best mentors we can find and learn from them all that we can.
By this approach we are augmented with greater strength and wisdom than we, ourselves, possess. Not only this, but over time we can assimilate that greater strength and wisdom into ourselves, becoming a more full and capable person than we were before.
To a point.
Eventually there is a limit to what any mentor can teach us. If we rely on them continually they will eventually shift from being our support to our crutch. The best teachers therefore push their pupils out of the nest so that their growth isn’t forever stunted. From there it will be up to the pupil to seek out the true source of knowledge and strength. There, alone with God, the student will truly come into their own.
1 Samuel 17:39-40- And David said unto Saul, I cannot go with these; for I have not proved them. And David put them off him. And he took his staff in his hand, and chose him five smooth stones out of the brook, and put them in a shepherd’s bag which he had, even in a scrip; and his sling was in his hand: and he drew near to the Philistine.
Genesis 37:23-24, 28- And it came to pass, when Joseph was come unto his brethren, that they stript Joseph out of his coat, his coat of many colours that was on him; And they took him, and cast him into a pit: and the pit was empty, there was no water in it. Then there passed by Midianites merchantmen; and they drew and lifted up Joseph out of the pit, and sold Joseph to the Ishmeelites for twenty pieces of silver: and they brought Joseph into Egypt.

The Greatest Gifts Man Cannot Give

No person that spends their time just imitating another person will ever reach their full potential. None of us was made to be the perfect carbon copy of each other. I can never be another person as well as they already are. The fullest version of a person I could ever hope to be is my own best self.
And by that same logic, no earthly mentor is able to take us all the way to being our own best self either. Our best self is not their own self, and thus they can only show us so far down that path before their vision falls short.
We require a mentor that is on a higher plane and can see exactly what our full potential really is. We require someone who was walked every step in our own shoes and fully understands where we are and how far we can go. We require a being that can assume the very guise of our best self and show it to us as an example to follow. In short, only God could ever help us to know ourselves perfectly.
Matthew 19:17- And he said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God: but if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments.
John 5:19- Then answered Jesus and said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, The Son can do nothing of himself, but what he seeth the Father do: for what things soever he doeth, these also doeth the Son likewise.

God Must Be Met Individually

And of course, no mentor can give us their relationship with God for our own. Only we can make that connection. In fact, of all the areas where a pupil might use their teacher as a crutch, this is the most dangerous. If the pupil’s every spiritual whim is catered to by their mentor they might not ever see the necessity for getting any closer to God. They might stunt themselves in this most essential piece of development.
As I shared in my last post, even Jesus’s disciples couldn’t fully come into their own until he had departed from them. Peter had attested that he would follow Jesus to the very end…but he was not supposed to spend the rest of his life as a follower, he was meant to become a leader. And there wasn’t any space for him to do that while Jesus still filled that role.
It is a hard thing for a mentor to stop shielding the pupil they love. It goes against their caring nature to let a student feel the full force of neediness and failure. But for many of us, maybe even all of us, it is only when we are exposed to the elements that we come to realize our dependence God and begin to seek Him in earnest. And from that all good things follow.
John 16:7, 20 (NIV)- But very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. Very truly I tell you, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy.

Leading to Water- Matthew 16:17, Matthew 19:17, John 16:7, 20 (NIV)

And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-jona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven.

And he said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God: but if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments.

But very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. Very truly I tell you, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy.

COMMENTARY

Blessed art thou: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father in heaven
And he said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God
Jesus was the literal son of God and only perfect being to walk the earth, yet even he urged his disciples to look higher than himself. He was stressing to them the importance of getting personally connected to the Maker, rather than trying to work through any secondary source.
Perhaps this was because Jesus spent his youth and early adult life getting to know his father before fully embracing his ministry and role as the savior (Luke 2:52). He was simply preaching what he had practiced.

It is for your good that I am going away. You will weep, but your grief will turn to joy
This next verse is very interesting. Jesus is informing his disciples that he will very soon leave this earthly realm, and he is saying that this is a good thing for them. At the time that might have seemed a very strange pronouncement, but he was able to see the bigger picture, and how much his disciples needed him to leave them.
Because while his disciples meant well, they were still using him as a crutch. This is made evident in how clueless they initially became after he did leave them. They didn’t know how to go on and tried to return to the life of lowly fishermen (John 21:3).
But as we see in the rest of their stories eventually they did reach their full maturity, and they only did it after Jesus’s ascension. They could only became the spiritual giants they were born to be after his departure, and so it truly was for their good that he was going away.

Leading to Water- Ether 3:1, 4, 6

And it came to pass that the brother of Jared, (now the number of the vessels which had been prepared was eight) went forth unto the mount, which they called the mount Shelem, because of its exceeding height, and did molten out of a rock sixteen small stones; and they were white and clear, even as transparent glass; and he did carry them in his hands upon the top of the mount, and cried again unto the Lord, saying:
And I know, O Lord, that thou hast all power, and can do whatsoever thou wilt for the benefit of man; therefore touch these stones, O Lord, with thy finger, and prepare them that they may shine forth in darkness; and they shall shine forth unto us in the vessels which we have prepared, that we may have light while we shall cross the sea.
And it came to pass that when the brother of Jared had said these words, behold, the Lord stretched forth his hand and touched the stones one by one with his finger. And the veil was taken from off the eyes of the brother of Jared, and he saw the finger of the Lord; and it was as the finger of a man, like unto flesh and blood; and the brother of Jared fell down before the Lord, for he was struck with fear.

COMMENTARY

The brother of Jared went unto the mount and did molten out of a rock sixteen small stones; and they were white and clear, even as transparent glass; and he cried again unto the Lord, saying: touch these stones with thy finger, that they may shine forth in darkness
Yesterday I examined how the brother of Jared came to the Lord with two problems: the vessels he had been commanded to build had neither light nor air. The Lord addressed the matter of getting air but turned the problem of light back to the brother of Jared.
And I think what the brother of Jared did next was very wise. He worked to make something special, refining rock until it became totally transparent. Surely with God’s omnipotence anything could have been made to glow, even the nearest patch of mud, but the brother of Jared wasn’t so disrespectful as to offer the Lord something like that. Instead he chose to bring the best that he could. He chose to put in personal effort and ingenuity until he could bring something special to the table. Then he asked for help to bring his offering the rest of the way.

And the Lord stretched forth his hand and touched the stones one by one with his finger. And the veil was taken from off the eyes of the brother of Jared, and he saw the finger of the Lord.
The Lord turned the problem over to the brother of Jared and the brother of Jared put in real effort to solve it. It might seem a small thing, but this approach alters the relationship between God and man from being “Master and servant” to “partners.” The brother of Jared had entered a more intimate alliance with God and this was signified by the miracle of seeing his Maker’s finger. This is the sort of relationship that God is seeking with each of us as well.

Leading to Water- Ether 2:18-23

And it came to pass that the brother of Jared cried unto the Lord, saying: O Lord, I have performed the work which thou hast commanded me, and I have made the barges according as thou hast directed me.
And behold, O Lord, in them there is no light; whither shall we steer? And also we shall perish, for in them we cannot breathe, save it is the air which is in them; therefore we shall perish.
And the Lord said unto the brother of Jared: Behold, thou shalt make a hole in the top, and also in the bottom; and when thou shalt suffer for air thou shalt unstop the hole and receive air. And if it be so that the water come in upon thee, behold, ye shall stop the hole, that ye may not perish in the flood.
And it came to pass that the brother of Jared did so, according as the Lord had commanded.
And he cried again unto the Lord saying: O Lord, behold I have done even as thou hast commanded me; and I have prepared the vessels for my people, and behold there is no light in them. Behold, O Lord, wilt thou suffer that we shall cross this great water in darkness?
And the Lord said unto the brother of Jared: What will ye that I should do that ye may have light in your vessels? For behold, ye cannot have windows, for they will be dashed in pieces; neither shall ye take fire with you, for ye shall not go by the light of fire.

COMMENTARY

And behold, O Lord, in them there is no light; whither shall we steer? And also we shall perish, for in them we cannot breathe.
The brother of Jared had been commanded to prepare some ships to carry him and his people across the ocean, and he had diligently followed God’s directions for how to fashion them. It appears from the description given that the boats were designed to move only by the ocean’s currents, with no upper deck and sails, and entirely enclosed with the passengers safe inside.
But now that they were complete the brother of Jared was able to identify a few issues with the vessels: there was no light inside and also no opening for air to enter in. As the Lord had given the brother of Jared the schematics for these boats thus far, he naturally came back to God for further guidance on these new issues as well.

And the Lord said: Behold, thou shalt make a hole, and thou shalt unstop the hole and receive air. And if it be so that the water come in upon thee, behold, ye shall stop the hole.
And the Lord did, indeed, solve the first of the problems. He instructed Jared to add a sort of hatch to the boat which could be opened when the water was calm and closed when it was tumultuous. Half of the brother of Jared’s prayers had was answered!

And the Lord said unto the brother of Jared: What will ye that I should do that ye may have light in your vessels?
But for the second issue, the lack of light, God turned things back to the brother of Jared to come up with a solution. Given the omnipotence of God there’s no question that He could have solved this issue off the cuff as well. But He didn’t, and the only conceivable reason I can think of is because He wanted to teach a lesson.
By this point the brother of Jared had been shown several times that God could solve things. The fact that he came asking God for help in the first place shows that he had confidence in the Lord’s abilities. But God did not want this to remain a relationship of “hey God, can you fix my problem?” That sort of relationship would never result in the brother of Jared fully coming into his own. It was the brother of Jared being carried everywhere instead of learning to walk. God wanted to teach that the brother of Jared to use his own ingenuity first, and then utilize God as a resource for that.

Leading to Water- 2 Kings 2:8-14

And Elijah took his mantle, and wrapped it together, and smote the waters, and they were divided hither and thither, so that they two went over on dry ground.
And it came to pass, when they were gone over, that Elijah said unto Elisha, Ask what I shall do for thee, before I be taken away from thee. And Elisha said, I pray thee, let a double portion of thy spirit be upon me.
And he said, Thou hast asked a hard thing: nevertheless, if thou see me when I am taken from thee, it shall be so unto thee; but if not, it shall not be so.
And it came to pass, as they still went on, and talked, that, behold, there appeared a chariot of fire, and horses of fire, and parted them both asunder; and Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven.
And Elisha saw it, and he cried, My father, my father, the chariot of Israel, and the horsemen thereof. And he saw him no more: and he took hold of his own clothes, and rent them in two pieces.
He took up also the mantle of Elijah that fell from him, and went back, and stood by the bank of Jordan;
And he took the mantle of Elijah that fell from him, and smote the waters, and said, Where is the Lord God of Elijah? and when he also had smitten the waters, they parted hither and thither: and Elisha went over.

COMMENTARY

Elijah said unto Elisha, Ask what I shall do for thee, before I be taken away from thee. And Elisha said, I pray thee, let a double portion of thy spirit be upon me.
And he said, Thou hast asked a hard thing: nevertheless, if thou see me when I am taken from thee, it shall be so unto thee.

In this passage we read how Elijah was willing to give what he could to his protégé, but Elisha’s specific request was one that Elijah did not have the ability to fulfill. It was a request that Elisha was going to have to take up with the Lord directly.

And he took the mantle of Elijah that fell from him, and smote the waters, and they parted hither and thither
And so, after Elisha witnessed the departure of his master he took up the mantle, tested his authority, and found that God had indeed granted his request. Elisha had received what Elijah already had but which only God could give.
It is important for each of us to recognize that while our worldly mentors can give us much, they cannot give us all. We might go to school and gain a full education, but the pure love of learning is something that no teacher can impart. And we can learn manners from others, and how to speak kindly too, but no human can put genuine consideration for our fellow man in our hearts. And we can let others convince us of the importance of commandments and spiritual rituals, but no person will ever make God come alive in our hearts for us. These greater things can only come from above.

Leading to Water- Genesis 28: 1-2, 10-12, 18

And Isaac called Jacob, and blessed him, and charged him, and said unto him, Thou shalt not take a wife of the daughters of Canaan.
Arise, go to Padan-aram, to the house of Bethuel thy mother’s father; and take thee a wife from thence of the daughters of Laban thy mother’s brother.

And Jacob went out from Beer-sheba, and went toward Haran.
And he lighted upon a certain place, and tarried there all night, because the sun was set; and he took of the stones of that place, and put them for his pillows, and lay down in that place to sleep.
And he dreamed, and behold a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven: and behold the angels of God ascending and descending on it.

COMMENTARY

And Isaac called Jacob and charged him, Thou shalt not take a wife of the daughters of Canaan. Arise, go to Padan-aram, and take thee a wife from the daughters of Laban.
I want to start this series by looking at several points from the story of Jacob. These first verses describe the moment where Jacob is pushed out of his father’s nest. He has been raised in the land of Canaan and Isaac wants him to leave that area to marry someone within the Abrahamic covenant. Jacob is sent out to achieve this, and it appears that he was sent out alone.

And he lighted upon a certain place, and tarried there all night; and he took of the stones of that place, and put them for his pillows, and lay down in that place to sleep.
It is also worth noting that this is not Jacob’s natural environment. Where his twin brother Esau loved to roam and hunt it has been previously stated that Jacob “was a plain man, dwelling in tents” (Genesis 25:27).
He was the son of a rich man, and the grandson of another rich man. Now he is out in the wild, laying out hard stones for his pillow. As we will see tomorrow, this hardship is not lost on him. His great desire is to “come again to my father’s house in peace” (Genesis 28:21).

And he dreamed, and behold a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven: and behold the angels of God ascending and descending on it.
But it is in this moment, alone and unprotected by his father, that Jacob has a character-defining encounter with God. It is while venturing out under his own power that he starts to meet his maker.

Give Thanks- Divinity

I am grateful for divinity.

Many of the things I have already expressed gratitude for in this series can be considered a moment of God showing His hand in my life. A moving piece of music or a sincere and thoughtful tale. A pattern of mathematics. A mentor’s help and a child’s kindness. The variety of the world. The opportunities of time. The desires within us to make new and good things. The healing of the heart. I sense His divinity in all these aspects of life.

I believe that if each of us paused to consider the things we are most grateful for, we would recognize that they are the moments when we glimpse another side of our Maker. Our fondest memories are based around Him in one way or another.

It is true that we live in a fallen world, and it obscures our view of God, but He condescends to our presence in every way that He still can. When He does, these become the defining moments of our lives. They awaken in us the desire to be better. They make us to be our best selves.

#givethanks

Influence and Persuasion- Summary

I’ve enjoyed doing this study. It’s a topic that I have already pondered on several times in life, and each time it has had new applications for me. First I wondered how to win the loyalty my younger siblings as a child. Then there was serving a mission, where I tried to proselyte the gospel message to others. Next there is my marriage, where my wife and I continually come to terms with our differences. Now I have children of my own, and the desire to teach them the things that matter most. There are also the daily interactions with friends, and the many different ideas and beliefs that we hold. And on top of all that are my efforts to convince my own self to live a higher life.

In all of these situations I want to be a voice for the things that I believe are important, but I do not want to become a tyrant. And even though this is a question I have considered before, there were absolutely new lessons waiting for me as I performed this study. The gospel is a well that can be drawn from many times over.

I am convinced that this topic is one our society as a whole needs to study, too. We will always have different opinions, and there is a lot of good that comes of this, but we need to know how to communicate and persuade in a way that is constructive, not divisive. Hopefully the principles I’ve learned can be useful to all of us.

You Cannot Convince an Enemy or an Inferior

First and foremost, if our intention is to make someone see what is right, we can never succeed. All we will accomplish is to entrench them more firmly in their original beliefs and make them resent us. Neither can we try to manipulate or coerce them into “seeing the light.” Passive-aggressiveness is just as ineffective as harshness.
Even a more academic debate is largely ineffective. There are very few who are going to separate reason from emotion. Thus, even if they see that you are technically right in your specific argument, they will still be convinced that you are wrong overall.
Appeals to authority fall short as well. If you have to explain to your subordinates why they should listen to you, then your actual authority over them is purely imagined. The more strongly you profess your superiority, the more you actively undermine any actual persuasion, because no one wants a tyrant for their mentor.
In short: brute force, invoked authority, and intellectual prowess are the most common ways we use to try and get people to believe and do what we want them to believe and do. Not only are these methods ineffective, they are each immoral in their own way.
Doctrine and Covenants 121:39- We have learned by sad experience that it is the nature and disposition of almost all men, as soon as they get a little authority, as they suppose, they will immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion.
Moses 1:19- And now, when Moses had said these words, Satan cried with a loud voice, and ranted upon the earth, and commanded, saying: I am the Only Begotten, worship me.

You Can’t Set Another’s Pace

Perhaps the greatest temptation to force another comes from the immediacy of want. We want someone to be a certain way, and we want them to be that way right now. Many of our wants can be immediately satisfied: when we are hungry we get food to eat and when we are tired we put ourselves to sleep. So when we want someone to do something, there is a strong inclination to just make them do it today. But even when done with good intentions, such as a parent that wants to make their child understand the right way to live, this method is ultimately ineffective.
Any behavior that is outwardly enforced will only continue so long as the force is maintained. If we teach others to be good by threats or bribes, then they will depend on those threats and bribes to maintain their virtues. Obviously this is far from the ideal. The ideal is for people to be motivated internally, by a personal desire that requires no external force to continue.
But how do we make that personal desire come alive in another? Quite simply we can’t. It is internal. It is out of our reach. We can love and we can set an example and we can be ready to receive their conversion, but we cannot make that conversion happen. For their transformation to be lasting, it can only occur when when they are ready for it.
Nehemiah 9:30- For many years you were patient with them. By your Spirit you warned them through your prophets.
Hosea 3:4-5- For the children of Israel shall abide many days without a king, and without a sacrifice, and without an image, and without an ephod, and without teraphim:
Afterward shall the children of Israel return, and seek the Lord their God, and David their king; and shall fear the Lord and his goodness in the latter days.

A Hope in Human Nature

And this might be a hard reality for us to accept. This seems to be the most unreliable form of influence imaginable. The most hands-off, uncontrollable, indirect way there could be. If we don’t make sure that things work out right, how can we be sure that they ever will? That question, however, only betrays a lack of faith in humanity. We ask it only because we fail to appreciate that if people truly are the children of God, then it is already in their nature to come to Him.
The fundamental desire to be good is already alive in us all. Human beings everywhere naturally seek the light. They do not need to be told that they should go to it, they just need to have it held high and they will make their way over on their own.
So how do we persuade and influence other people? We simply hold aloft our light. We be kind and good. We love them regardless of whether they’re willing to follow our example yet or not. We let them sort things out on their own terms, and know that they will come when they are ready. We prepare ourselves to forgive all their wrongs in the meantime. We keep answers for when they start asking questions. We store up grace and mercy for the day that they are willing to accept it.
And we do this for them because it was what He first did for us.
Matthew 5:16- Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.
Luke 15:20- And he arose, and came to his father. But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him.
Nehemiah 9:31- But in your great mercy you did not put an end to them or abandon them, for you are a gracious and merciful God.